Ketogenic diet restores aberrant cortical motor maps and excitation-to-inhibition imbalance in the BTBR mouse model of autism spectrum disorder

Behav Brain Res. 2016 May 1;304:67-70. doi: 10.1016/j.bbr.2016.02.015. Epub 2016 Feb 11.


Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is an increasingly prevalent neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by deficits in sociability and communication, and restricted and/or repetitive motor behaviors. Amongst the diverse hypotheses regarding the pathophysiology of ASD, one possibility is that there is increased neuronal excitation, leading to alterations in sensory processing, functional integration and behavior. Meanwhile, the high-fat, low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet (KD), traditionally used in the treatment of medically intractable epilepsy, has already been shown to reduce autistic behaviors in both humans and in rodent models of ASD. While the mechanisms underlying these effects remain unclear, we hypothesized that this dietary approach might shift the balance of excitation and inhibition towards more normal levels of inhibition. Using high-resolution intracortical microstimulation, we investigated basal sensorimotor excitation/inhibition in the BTBR T+Itpr(tf)/J (BTBR) mouse model of ASD and tested whether the KD restores the balance of excitation/inhibition. We found that BTBR mice had lower movement thresholds and larger motor maps indicative of higher excitation/inhibition compared to C57BL/6J (B6) controls, and that the KD reversed both these abnormalities. Collectively, our results afford a greater understanding of cortical excitation/inhibition balance in ASD and may help expedite the development of therapeutic approaches aimed at improving functional outcomes in this disorder.

Keywords: Autism spectrum disorder; BTBR; Ketogenic diet; Motor map; Neocortex.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / diet therapy*
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / pathology
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / physiopathology*
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Diet, Ketogenic*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Inhibition, Psychological*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred Strains
  • Motor Cortex / physiopathology*
  • Social Behavior